Alkota: I see quite a few producers & beatmakers on the internet asking how to make their kicks "phatter" or "hit harder". Obviously, a hard hitting kick drum is the centerpiece to hip hop production, especially Boom Bap. Many beatmakers need to understand that staring with good sounds & samples is imperative to having hard hitting drums.
1. Besides starting with good drum samples, what are some ways that beat makers can beef up their kick drums?
Getting a great kick drum sound is the result of many small things that if paid attention to can add up to great sounding kick drums. Ill give a few examples. First I think you have to know the way your speakers and listening environment sound and the altering effect that they both have on the way you percieve your kick drums to sound.
#1 The Easiest and cheapest way to start is to always listen to well mixed commercially released music through your studio monitors and sitting in the same position you sit in when your are making beats.
#2 If you have a small non-acoustically designed room the low end balance will be very inaccurate. To demonstrate this, play a song and walk around the room slowly. Take note of how the bass changes in every different place that you stand. Often it changes DRASTICALLY from step to step and is often accentuated near the back of the room. This translates to you not hearing an accurate sound coming out of your speakers when you are making beats and choosing drums. This will cause you to add too much or too much or too little bass. You will have a false picture of how punchy your kick is, and its balance of "THUMP" to "KNOCK" and "THWACK". If you are not in a commercially designed studio whose rooms are ideally created to be FLAT at the listening position, chances are you room sounds bad. very bad. especially if your room is small, and has ceilings that are low. (like most houses or apartments). There are a few things you can do to make you bad room "less bad" but it will never be perfect. Building large bass traps to absorb the low end. This will make the low end more even sounding at the listening position. Other room treatment will definitely be necessary such as carpets, absorbent panels, diffusers...even a couch can help your room sound better.
#3 Speaker placement - Since you are not in a controlled acoustic environment, trial and error is often you only solution. However there are a few guidelines that may help. The tweeters should be at ear level and should be angled in at an imaginary point just behind your head. They ideally should be a couple feet from the wall behind them and setup in an equilateral triangle with the listening position.
Once you have your room setup and treated to the best of you ability you can now start listening.
#4 Try to memorize exactly what your speakers sound like. listen at a consistent volume. Sit in the exact same postion each time. Listen to your reference material over and over. Take note of the way the bass in you favorite records hits you. Not just the way it sounds but the way it vibrates different parts of your body. The way you feel the punch in your chest, and the sub in your gut. The vibration that you feel thru you feet. Try to burn the way it sounds and feels into your memory, especially the balance between the lows and the highs of the Kick. When you are creating, reference back to the material until you know your speakers well. This may take years.
Achieving a great kick drum that will sound good in your car, headphones, club, etc takes a very delicate balance. Being in the best acoustical environment possible will make your life easier and your kick drums better.
2. In terms of mixing their beats, how should beatmakers treat other instruments (sample, bass, synths, etc.) relative to their drums?
The ways that other instruments are mixed relative to your drums are largely a matter of personal taste. Whatever level your prefer your drums at, you must choose instrument sounds wisely. If i want my snare to stand out, i may cut mid frequencies between 400hz and 700hz on synths, pianos, samples etc. if i want my kick to punch through the bass I sometimes cut 150hz-200hz in the bass. It really all depends on the source material. There is not one answer that will be consistent.
3. Basslines and the kick drum often compete for space in the mix. What are some techniques that you use to help the kick drum and bass work better in the mix?
You must pick a bass that works with the kick drum. If it is programmed to play on the kick drum, they must not clash in frequency. If you have a deep kick, choose a higher bass and vice versa. If the bass plays in between kicks you can sometimes get away with making it more powerful. In any case, the relationship between the two will make or break your track.
Alkota: Producers and Beat Makers want to compete in the so called "loudness war" and get their mixes to sound as loud as possible. In the process they end squashing the very dynamics they worked so hard to get with limiters, maximizers, etc.
4. How can beatmakers find a balance between having good dynamics and a loud mix/rough master?
My personal preference is to never kill my music with loudness maximizers. Moderation is the key to this. My favorite limiters for this are Ozone 5, Brainworkx BX XL and the massey L2007. A problem that often happens with "mastered" beats is that artists rap over these and then they further limit the song at this stage double squashing your track. This results in the vocals never fitting into the track. They will usually sit on top or under the music. This causes the artist's demo of YOUR production to sound horrible. This is something that i have NEVER seen the pro's do. They know better. If you are trying to compete for album space with the Just Blazes' and Dr. Dres' of the industry then DON'T over do the limiter to get your track loud. Its simply not that important. The last thing you want is the tracks before and after yours to blow it away sonically.
5. What effects do you use to spice up your drums?
I tend to pick my effects for drums during pre production. I am a big Maschine fan so i use it's on board fx for the most part. I like the Ice and metaverb fx especially. Everything depends on the sound I want so the effects are usually different every time I start something new.
6. Are there any other techniques or advice you can give to the readers looking to get beefy kick drums?
There are a million techniques that one can use to get beefy kick drums. The best advice I can give is to start with good samples. You can buy them, you can sample them or record them yourself. Compare them to your favorite recordings and make sure you are in the ballpark. Listen to your tracks in many different systems to make sure that it sounds like you think it did in the studio.
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